Subaru Canada Inc.’s new CEO Tomohiro Kubota is touring the country to meet with dealers as the company aims to bounce back from a poor sales year and ready its network of retailers for the electric-vehicle era.
Kubota, who took over the top post at the brand in December, told Automotive News Canada at the Canadian International AutoShow Feb. 16. that he is in the process of familiarizing himself with the Canadian market and will be “listening closely” to dealers in regional meetings running throughout March.
Subaru was hobbled by production challenges and inventory shortages in Canada in 2022, leading to its worst sales performance in years. Sales fell to 44,009 last year, down more than 20 per cent from 56,870 in 2021 and 57,524 in pre-pandemic 2019.
Kubota said the company is looking to “rebound” in 2023. It is targeting sales of 60,000 vehicles in Canada this year, and further growth in the years ahead.
“Our long-term goal is to achieve five per cent market share,” equating to about 80,000 vehicles annually, Kubota said.
Despite the significant decline in sales last year, dealers remain enthusiastic about the brand. In February, Subaru earned the top place in the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association’s 2022 Dealer Satisfaction Index among brands with fewer than 100 dealerships for the 10th year in a row.
Subaru also began Canadian deliveries of its first battery-electric vehicle in the fall as it irons out its electrification strategy.
The Subaru Solterra, a rebadged version of the Toyota bZ4X, has received positive feedback from customers and has been a “good start” for the brand, Kubota said. As with many other EVs, however, Canadian customers are facing a waitlist.
“Depending on the trim level, it’s over five months,” Kubota said.
Each of Subaru Canada’s 95 dealers have “opted in” to sell EVs, and about half have made their first electric sale, according to Julie Lychak, manager of public relations for Subaru Canada.
To properly serve EV customers, Subaru is asking its retailers to make fresh investments in their dealerships, though it is allowing a relatively high degree of regional differentiation, Lychak added. Dealers will need to install at least one customer-facing EV charger, and another in the shop, but the total number of chargers and their speed will depend on local demands.
The need for dealership shop upgrades will also be market dependent, Lychak said. Dealers in Quebec, for instance, previously sold the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, and invested in some of the necessary equipment at that point. She said dealers not previously equipped who are serving large markets will likely have to spend “significantly more,” but she would not specify how much the investment could run.
Subaru plans to assist dealers with the capital spending, contributing up to 30 per cent of the investment, based on what market dealers serve.
While the Solterra is Subaru’s first step in the EV market, other models, including those built in-house, will follow.
Kubota said the Japan-based company plans to paint a clearer picture of its product plans and electrification strategy in the first half of its fiscal year, which runs from April to September.